02/02/2015 12:56 EST | Updated 04/04/2015 05:59 EDT

Picture Winter in a Syrian Refugee Camp


Five-year-old Khalil gave his boots to his younger sister because he's 'the man of the house' and can bear the cold more easily. Photos by Ralph Baydoun

"It really gets cold in winter," a colleague had warned me, as I prepared to leave for Jordan earlier this month to join the World Vision team serving Syrian refugee families living there.

Like most people, I wondered, "how cold could it possibly get in the Middle East?" Sand dunes, sunshine, dust storms and deserts -- this is what most people imagine when they think of this part of the world.

Just two short weeks before, around New Year's, I had visited families in Azraq refugee camp, also in Jordan. That day, the sun was shining, the temperature was pleasant, children were smiling and playing and, certainly considering everything they'd been through, they seemed ok.


January weather patterns in the Middle East have shown no mercy for Syrian families shivering in tents.

But the weather took a rapid turn after that, as a snowstorm swept through the Middle East. A World Vision colleague visited tented Syrian refugee settlements in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, to find out how people were coping. One young boy, Mohammed, told him: "We were in the tent and suddenly it fell on our heads. I took my brother and left and my mum rescued my two sisters. The tent couldn't bear the amount of snow on it."

My colleague also spoke to a young girl, Mariha, who was wearing slippers in the snow. He asked her why she didn't stay inside and she replied "I'm so cold, but I need to search for wood so we can get warm at night."

Although World Vision and other agencies provided items to help Syrian refugees face winter, conditions are much harsher than expected. Refugee families living in Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan also felt the impact of the storm. There, many tents collapsed under the weight of the snow while others were flooded with water.

Then there are the families still living inside Syria. Earlier this year, heavy rains caused flooding in the camps, and destruction of tents and the very few personal belongings families still have left. World Vision was able to reach 600 of the most affected families, through local partners.

I spoke to Khalil Sleiman, World Vision's Syria response manager who said "they've lost pretty much everything, again, once when they fled the fighting, and now because of the rains." These families received kits including a mattress, blankets, flash light, water container, tent repair kit, woollen hats, socks and winter boots.


Children in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon are still in need of socks, blankets, and other goods to protect them from the cold.

Just like everyone else, I get overwhelmed by the numbers: 7.6 million people displaced inside Syria and 3.7 million refugees in neighbouring countries. And although there is much more that needs to be done, it warms my heart to know that there are Syrian children out there right now with blankets to wrap around them during the freezing night, and socks to warm their feet.

Help children like these, in some of the world's most fragile countries. World Vision will be continuing to distribute clothing and blankets over the coming weeks.

Suzy Sainovski is acting as World Vison's communications director for the Syria crisis.